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Propane vs. Oil: Which is Best to Heat My Home?

With each passing fall and winter, many homeowners grapple with choosing how to best heat their homes. This article will provide a comprehensive comparison of propane and heating oil to help you make an informed decision.

Propane and Heating Oil: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between propane heating oil lies in their chemistry. Propane is a gas at room temperature but is stored and transported in a compressed form as a liquid. Heating oil is a liquid fuel that is derived from petroleum. While heating oil has a higher energy capacity at 139,000 BTUs than propane’s 91,502 BTUs, it is not enough of a margin to make a distinction in energy output.

Both propane and heating oil will keep your home warm and comfortable throughout the coldest months of the year, so it comes down to making the best choice for your household. Factors to consider when making your selection include cost savings, environmental impact, and ensuring safety in your home.

Let’s start by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of these two fuels for your home heating needs.

Propane Advantages

  • Efficiency: Propane has a high energy output, resulting in faster heating.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Over time, propane can be less expensive. Because it heats more efficiently, you’ll save money by using less fuel.
  • Availability: Propane is widely available and can easily and conveniently be stored in tanks on your property.
  • Environmental benefits: Propane produces fewer greenhouse gases than heating oil

Propane Disadvantages

  • Initial cost of installation: Propane systems can have higher upfront costs.
  • Safety concerns: Propane is flammable, posing risks if leaks occur.
  • Fluctuations in propane prices: Prices can vary based on supply and demand.

Heating Oil Advantages

  • High energy content: Heating oil delivers abundant heat energy per gallon, slightly more than propane.
  • Safety: Unlike propane, heating oil is not explosive and poses fewer risks of leaks.
  • Lower initial cost of installation: Heating oil systems tend to be cheaper than propane systems to install

Heating Oil Disadvantages

  • Higher environmental impact: Heating oil emits more greenhouse gasses than propane. If your oil tank leaks it can have a significant negative impact on the local environment.
  • Higher maintenance: Heating oil doesn’t burn as clean as propane. Soot build-up requires more frequent maintenance of heating systems.
  • Fluctuations in oil prices: Heating oil prices are subject to changing markets and geopolitical tensions.

Keeping these pros and cons in mind, both fuels have their merits. Propane can be more cost-effective over time thanks to its efficiency, but heating oil systems often have lower initial costs. Propane is more eco-friendly because it burns cleaner than oil, but heating oil poses fewer safety risks.

Differences in Equipment and Installation Requirements

As you might expect, different types of furnaces and boilers are required for each type of fuel and those differences extend to the fuel tanks. Propane tanks can be placed above or underground. Heating oil tanks are recommended to be placed above ground, mainly in case of a leak.

Venting requirements also differ, with heating oil furnaces requiring a chimney and propane systems needing two vent pipes, usually placed so that they are coming out of the side of the building.

Maintenance Requirements for Propane and Heating Oil Systems

No matter which option you choose, regular system care and maintenance is vital to ensure efficient and safe operation. Schedule regularly cleaning and inspected according to the requirements of the system you choose, replacing parts and filters as necessary.

Other Important Factors to Consider

Ask yourself these questions as you continue the process of making a selection between heating oil and propane.

Where do I live?
Residents in urban and some suburban areas have easier access to propane as a home heating fuel while in more rural areas it may be less available.

How cold are the winters in my area?
Mild winters happen but if you live in a climate where the winter temperatures can be extremely cold, then heating oil’s higher energy content can be beneficial.

What will it cost me to run each system?
You need to consider both installation and long-term costs. A propane heating system may cost more to install than a system using heating oil, but fuel and maintenance costs may be less. Calculate the approximate cost of heating your home with each option to help you make a more precise decision.

How does environmental impact affect my decision?
If choosing an eco-friendly option is your priority, propane might be the preferred choice. Some heating oils are biofuels and burn cleaner but propane is still the cleanest option.

Are there any government regulations or incentives to help me decide?
Check federal, state and local guidelines to find out if your area has any policies or emission standards to be aware of that might affect the choice. Look into any tax credit opportunities that can factor into the financial aspect of your choice.

What about Other Heating Fuels?

You may be thinking, “Should I just choose another home heating source?” To help you decide, here’s how propane and heating oil compare to other sources like electricity and wood:

Electricity can be efficient and clean – even cleaner than propane – but it can also be cost-prohibitive. Wood is certainly renewable, but using it as your sole source of heat is less efficient. Wood can also cost more time, money, and energy. Do you want to spend more time at the chopping block or more time catching the Sunday football games?

Propane and heating oil will outperform wood in efficiency but in some regions can be costlier than electricity. Research pricing with your local utility companies to determine what is best for you.

There’s No Right or Wrong, Only What Is Right for You

The choice between propane and heating oil depends on individual preferences, location, budget, and environmental considerations. Weigh the pros and cons carefully, consider long-term costs and benefits and make the best choice for your current situation.

If you have questions, we are more than happy to help. Call us at 215.799.2019.


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